Captain Mike, in preparation of a weekend of fun fishing, my friends and I often catch dozens of pilchard off a local seawall. We transport our bounty via a portable baitwell to a bait pen approximately 30-minutes away. Exactly why or where we do this would make for a great article, however what’s important for now is that our baits are dying for no apparent reason. Everything seems to be going fine until we start crowding the baitwell with four to five-dozen baits. By the time we get back to the dock, half of our hard earned offerings are belly up while the remaining half appear to be gasping for air. We believe we have adequate tank space and good aeration with a spray bar shooting into the tank from a submerged pump, yet we can’t seem to figure out what is causing our baits to die. Please help. – Frustrated Fisherman
You’re not alone. I have personally experienced the same frustrating scenario. The problem is likely simple to overcome, just as long as you clearly understand the live bait equation. While you didn’t mention if you are using a cast net or sabiki rig to procure the baits, I’m assuming you are taking great care to avoid harming the baits when de-hooking and transferring them. What you did mention is that you believe you have adequate well capacity. In my experience, a 30-gallon round or oval baitwell is sufficient for maintaining and transporting upwards of ten dozen mid-size baits. Unless you’re live chumming, that should be enough to keep you and your friends hooked up for the weekend. While an insulated tank is not essential, a tank with a dark interior will help keep your baits calm, resulting in the greatest longevity.
The patented aeration system introduces millions of micro bubbles directly into the water stream, not only keeping the baits alive but transforming them into super baits.
The next consideration is oxygen. Without sufficiently oxygenated water your baitfish will ultimately suffocate in any portable baitwell, regardless of tank size. This is precisely where maintaining live bait in an enclosed system, unlike your boat’s livewell where fresh seawater is constantly circulating through the tank, creates the most trouble and is very likely the root of your problem.
A few factors that you must address include the velocity and direction of water flow, the size and volume of air bubbles, and the water temperature in your tank. Circulating water that is too turbulent may actually do more harm then good by forcing your baitfish to work against the current and tire too quickly. The logic that a powerful stream of water is necessary to keep baits alive is a misconception. Rather, water flow within any contained system should be introduced in a gentle, circular motion, allowing inhabitants to school while oxygenated seawater smoothly flows across their gills. The ultimate goal is for your baitfish to swim in a stationary position within the tank, which can be achieved by adjusting the size of the intake.
Look very closely at how you’re attempting to introduce oxygen into your enclosed system. You point out that your tank is equipped with a spray bar. I’ve made this same mistake, too. You and I inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 we exhaust dissipates into the atmosphere. Fish require oxygen to survive too, and they also emit CO2, which is absorbed into the surrounding water. If the CO2 is not removed, your baits will die. Hence, the trick to live bait transport success all boils down to tiny micro bubbles.
Oxygen bubbles introduced into your tank must be very small so they spend maximum time floating to the surface. On the way up the tiny air bubbles magically oxygenate the water while simultaneously absorbing CO2, which is dissipated into the atmosphere once the bubble pops at the surface. The smaller the air bubble the more efficient this life giving exchange. While your spray bar jets streams of water into your well, which at first glance does appear to be oxygenating the water, the vast majority of those bubbles are simply too large to be effective. Plus, spray bars can be harsh and may remove scales from your fragile friends. With their protective coating jeopardized, long-term survival is drastically compromised. You’d really be better off oxygenating your water with an aquarium type stone aerator fed by a battery powered pump. They are quiet, gentle and because they emit tiny bubbles, they do provide a level of effective aeration.
If you’re seriously ready to take your bait transporting to a professional level, do yourself a favor and invest in the right system. I’ve encountered just about every imaginable problem when it comes to transporting live bait and after spending hundreds of dollars and many frustrating days fumbling around with various tank and pump configurations, I finally broke down and purchased a fully contained Keep Alive system (www.keepalive.net) and couldn’t be happier. With this 30-gallon setup I am now able to easily transport 200+ baits at a time. The patented aeration system introduces millions of micro bubbles directly into the water stream, not only keeping the baits alive but transforming them into super baits. It’s a simple yet ingenious all-in-one portable baitwell that can be powered by an external 12-volt battery or hardwired directly to your vehicle’s power source. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t duplicate this system on your own.
The final factor to consider is water temperature. As a rule, the water temperature in your tank should never be more than 8° above or below from the environment the baitfish were caught in. The warmer the water the less oxygen it will hold, and the more challenging it will be to keep the baits frisky. Adding ice in the form of a frozen 2-liter bottle is one way to keep the temperature down although unless you plan on keeping the baits in the enclosed system overnight, water temperature isn’t nearly as important as proper oxygenation. Hope I was able to help.